Pakistan-Afghan border crossing reopens after negotiations

Torkham border closure since 12 January came after Islamabad imposed tighter controls requiring drivers to have visas and passports — documents many Afghans do not have

By AFP

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Drivers take rest as stranded trucks are pictured near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham on January 16, 2024. — AFP
Drivers take rest as stranded trucks are pictured near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in Torkham on January 16, 2024. — AFP

Published: Tue 23 Jan 2024, 2:08 PM

Last updated: Tue 23 Jan 2024, 2:09 PM

Pakistan and Afghanistan reopened a key trade crossing on Tuesday, officials on both sides said, after a row over travel papers as Islamabad cracks down on cross-border movements.

The Torkham border closure since 12 January came after Islamabad imposed tighter controls requiring drivers from both sides to have visas and passports -- documents many Afghans do not have.

Ties between the two countries have increasingly frayed in recent months, with Islamabad accusing the Taliban government of failing to root out militants staging attacks in Pakistan from their soil.

Kabul has always rejected the allegations.

A Pakistan border official, who asked not to be named, confirmed the reopening to AFP after negotiations between Islamabad and Kabul, allowing hundreds of waiting trucks to cross.

"It was agreed during the discussions that until 31 March, Pakistani and Afghan drivers can cross the border without a visa and passport," he said.

"However, starting on 1 April, both a visa and passport will be mandatory."

Afghan Torkham official Abdul Jabbar Hikmat confirmed lorries were allowed to cross again on Tuesday "without the need for passports and visas".

Pakistan's casualties from armed groups hit a six-year high in 2023 with more than 1,500 civilians, security forces and militants killed, according to Islamabad's Center for Research and Security Studies.

The biggest militant threat to Pakistan is its domestic chapter of the Taliban movement, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan officials said tighter restrictions on trade and on-off border closures are a pressure tactic to get the Taliban government to work with Pakistan on security.

"Pakistan desires Afghanistan to adopt a tough stance against the TTP," a senior provincial government official in Peshawar city who asked not to be named told AFP.

"If they do not, the trade route will be intermittently closed for various reasons."

Islamabad has also recently forced out hundreds of thousands of undocumented Afghans living in Pakistan.

More than 500,000 Afghans fled in the four months since Islamabad imposed a deadline ordering 1.7 million Afghans it says are living in the country illegally to leave or risk arrest and deportation.

Millions of Afghans escaping conflict poured into Pakistan in past decades, including around 600,000 since the Taliban ousted the US-backed government and imposed its harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

Some of the Afghans crossing into Afghanistan as a result of Islamabad's eviction scheme were entering the country for the first time, having lived their whole lives in Pakistan.

Upon arrival, migrants have received only modest assistance from the government and NGOs in a country contending with one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world.


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